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In Mississippi Half Step the Grateful Dead sing:

"Oh when your ship comes in the first man takes the sails
Second takes the afterdeck, the third, the planks and rails"

and I found myself wondering, is that just the Dead tripping out? Or is this a reference to some nautical tradition lost to the past?
 

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Is this the thread where we now post sailing themed dead lyrics? :)

Compass card is spinning, helm is swinging to and fro
Oh, where is the dog star, oh, where's the moon.
You're a lost sailor, been away too long at sea.

Somedays the gales are howling, sometimes the sea is still as glass.
Oh, raise the main sail, oh, lash the mast.
You're a lost sailor, been away too long at sea.
Now the shorelines beckon, there is a price for being free.

There's a sea bird cryin' and there's a ghost wind blowing
And it's calling you, to that misty swirling sea.
Till the chains of your dreams are broken,
No place in this world you can be.

You're a lost sailor, been away too long at sea.
Now the shorelines beckon, there is a price for being free.
 

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Written by Robert Hunter who claimed to have written songs while on LSD.

I am sure there is some overall theme or story to the song, as there are to most Dead songs. You'd have to look at this line within the context of the whole song.

I doubt it is a nautical reference. Sails just happens to rhyme with rails.

Personally, I think it's saying something like, when you achieve success (your ship comes in), people take what they can from you (the different parts of your ship).

But, of course, to really know what they are talking about.... pass the bong dude.
 
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